Project Aphelion Solo Play: Campaign Generation (Part 3)

By Anna Urbanek

Welcome back to the cycle in which I take Jakub’s perfectly good hard sci-fi RPG Project Aphelion and cram Shadowrun into it, using a lot of duct tape and hoping it will all hold. This time, I’m creating the campaign I want to play, establishing the goals and objectives, generating factions and the living, breathing world around Tomorrow. It’s gonna be full of sisterly affection, fun, tactical, and hopefully successful

If you’ve missed it, in previous posts I’ve created my character for solo play, Tomorrow, and homebrewed a career of a professional magician that I needed to pull off what I want to be doing in the game.

Campaign Objective

The ultimate objective of this campaign is to scratch an itch I have.

The in-world objective of this campaign is to find Tomorrow’s missing younger sister, Chloe, who has disappeared about two years earlier, when Tomorrow was still in prison. Over the time of the Denver 2055 campaign we’ve played, Tomorrow has gathered a pile of data on her sister’s disappearance which created more questions than it answered. As we’ve stopped playing SR, I just want to see how all of this works out. 

I will be creating the campaign based on the information Tomorrow already possesses thanks to almost a year of investigation run between herself and Dash, a hired and befriended hacker. Important elements of the story include:

  • Chloe is hiding somewhere in Hawaii and probably needs her sister’s help but there are no means of contacting her.
  • Dragon Henequen having more information than he is willing to share.
  • Aztechnology megacorp is on the trail of Chloe and her friend, Fayette.
  • Possible edge of blood magic, tying Tomorrow to a blood mage Salazar and his tiny magical gang.
  • Cutters, an international gang of weapon-smugglers, which are currently Tomorrow’s best and most influential allies, due to the events of our SR campaign, and her best friend and her boyfriend both playing prominent roles in Denver chapter of the gang.

Structured Campaign

As I’m starting with an already established end goal, this calls for a creation of what Project Aphelion calls a structured campaign. It gives me a goal to work towards and defines where the main efforts are going to be directed. The opposite is a freeflow campaign, giving the players a sandbox-like game.

I’m starting with choosing the Campaign Payout. I want it high (I’m not in a hurry to accomplish the goal, honestly) – getting back her sister is Tomorrow’s core objective and the source of her drive. I can’t have it achieved too quickly, now, can I? I’m setting this arbitrarily at 100 – which will give me about 20-30 scenarios of fun, depending on the actual progress made in the story. I’m in for the long haul. Payout 100 is also an equivalent of 500,000 credits – which seems an appropriate amount of money to secure an extraction and long-term survival of one person that Aztechnology wants captured or killed.

I want this campaign to be mostly an investigation, with some heists and lots of research and intel-gathering.


Generating the Campaign

To create the campaign, I need to generate the world for myself and the factions for Tomorrow to interact with. Of course, that doesn’t mean these are the only factions that will ever appear – this is just the starting point.

Tomorrow herself is also a Faction, as far as the rules of the game are concerned – a teeny-tiny Rating 1 Scientific Faction, to be exact.


Step 1: Determine the Campaign Rating

First, let’s see how difficult the campaign is going to be. I’m rolling 3d10, discarding the lowest and highest number, then adding my Faction Rating to it. 

I’ve rolled 1, 8, and 9, which means I end up with a Campaign Rating of 9. In short, a lot. It’s not going to be easy, and will include many, many moving parts, requiring a lot of work and effort. Which is what I like, so no real complaining here.

The Campaign also receives 9 free Build Points, which I will use to make Tomorrow’s life even harder.


Step 2: Determine the number of Factions

The campaign begins with a number of free Factions equal to the Campaign Rating. I can purchase or sell Factions for Build Points (1 Faction = 1 BP), but I’ll keep it at 9.

Now, what Factions are we going to have here?

  1. Aztechnology (just a fraction of it, of course; no chance Tomorrow has a whole megacorp against her, as this is not how megacorps work)
  2. Henequen the Feathered Serpent and the person who told Tomorrow about Chloe’s general whereabouts
  3. Cutters, the gun-smuggling cartel, Tomorrow’s landlords and oftentimes employers
  4. The Hellhounds, Salazar’s gang of blood mages
  5. Doctor Harmon’s clinic
  6. Crowley the Free Spirit
  7. Phase, an ex-B&E artist and shadowrunner
  8. ALOHA, Hawai’i Liberation League
  9. Yakuza

Step 3: Determine Faction strength

For each Faction, I need to run a Campaign Rating task to establish the starting Faction Rating. For each Faction, I roll 9 dice against the standard difficulty of 6 and count the marks. Again, I can raise or reduce the rating for Build Points. Each Rating point gives the Faction 1 Asset and 10 Resources.

No.NameRating
1Aztechnology4
2Henequen5
3Cutters5
4Hellhounds3
5Doc Harmon’s crew5
6Crowley5
7Phase6
8ALOHA2
9Yakuza5

Just like with the Contacts, the Faction Ratings are not an objective measurement of power in-world – they are the measurement of the involvement and power in the campaign. Aztechnology is undoubtedly a bigger deal than a gun cartel, but their involvement and interest in this particular story will be smaller. Also, as Faction ratings only go up to 5 and I’ve rolled 6 for Phase the Ex-Shadowrunner, I need to split it into two Factions with a combined Rating of 6. As Phase is strongly connected to the elven gang of Ancients, I’m going to split it into Ancients 2 and Phase 4 – the ex-shadowrunner is somewhat of a friend and not-entirely-voluntary mentor to Tomorrow; having the gang in the background as an additional source of complications will be a nice addition.


Step 4: Determine Faction Focuses

Just like characters, factions can have a creative, investigative, scientific, social, technical, or warfare focus. Unlike characters, they have two focuses: Primary and Secondary. Any actions in the Primary focus will use the full Faction Rating dice pool; Secondary focus will use half of that value (rounded up); all other focuses are Tertiary and use half of the Secondary value (rounded up).

For example, a Scientific/Warfare Faction with Rating 5 would have 5 dice in scientific actions, 3 in warfare, and 2 in all other kinds of pursuits.

I can either roll the Focuses (on a d6) or pick them by hand. I did both, as some of those just made sense and I wanted to leave the others up to chance

No.NameRatingPrimary FocusSecondary Focus
1Aztechnology4socialscientific
2Henequen5investigativewarfare
3Cutters5warfaresocial
4Hellhounds3scientifictechnical
5Doc Harmon’s crew5scientificcreative
6Crowley5investigativewarfare
7Phase4investigativetechnical
8Ancients2creativesocial
9ALOHA2warfarescientific
10Yakuza5scientificinvestigative

Leaving most of it to chance has generated some unexpected results but I’m more than happy to see it. Yakuza was always supposed to be a big player in the story (because the Kingdom of Hawai’i in SR is a place of warring US-Japan relations and yakuza/Mitsuhama corp are an important part of it), but knowing that Tomorrow will be up against the scientific and investigative wing of it (as opposed to the warfare one) makes it a completely different story. The social focus of Aztechnology makes it into a political intrigue, not a battle for our lives against blood magic and elite spec ops units. The creative focus of Ancients just makes me want to make an NPC elven singer or a writer and throw them into the story. I might do just that.


Step 5: Determine the Faction behaviors

Having the Factions is one thing. For a living world, the need to be active. This is achieved through behaviors – standard operating procedures that will let me simulate the changes in the world without constantly making decisions for each faction. Each faction has three behaviors: one for Primary focus, one for Secondary, one for all Tertiary focuses. As previously, I can pick them or roll for it. There’s 20 of them, so I’ll roll away!

No.NameRatingPrimary Focus & BehaviorSecondary Focus & BehaviorTertiary Focus Behavior
1Aztechnology4Social / aggressiveScientific / nomadic/ protective
2Henequen5Investigative / isolationistWarfare / sedentary/ vindictive
3Cutters5Warfare / excessiveSocial / placating/ expansive
4Hellhounds3Scientific / exploitativeTechnical / protective/ plundering
5Doc Harmon’s crew5Scientific / placatingCreative / expedient/ abrasive
6Crowley5Investigative / defensiveWarfare / vindictive/ dynamic
7Phase4Investigative / lenientTechnical / vindictive/ mercantile
8Ancients2Creative / protectiveSocial / expansive/ expedient
9ALOHA2Warfare / abrasiveScientific / expedient/ exploitative
10Yakuza5Scientific / sedentaryInvestigative / plundering/ nomadic

Let’s see how this works.

ALOHA is a Hawaiian liberation organization; in SR terms, it’s a domestic terrorist organization, a mix of armed militia, an anarchist movement, and freedom fighters. In this campaign, their primary focus is warfare and their primary behavior is abrasive; that means, they will always choose to spend Resources on Actions that will reduce Familiarity with any Faction that isn’t on a positive Familiarity step with them. They will also not take positive Familiarity into account when spending Resources. If forced to do so, move to the next Behavior.

Basically: ‘who isn’t with us, is against us’ – and it fits pretty well the basic approach of this group. However, when this behavior is inapplicable (because it would bring more harm than good or because it’s not the warfare section that’s being called for), the group becomes expedient: they will not commit Assets to retry a failed Operation. If forced to do so, move to the next Behavior.

Again, if forced to re-do a thing or use a Focus other than warfare or scientific, they become exploitative: they will always try to generate Resources at the expense of their allies and use allied Factions for their benefit—they will have other Factions generate Resources for them if possible. If not, move to another Behavior.

As there are only three behaviors, in the case this behavior is impossible to apply, they’ll get back to their default approach of abrasiveness.

Rolling behaviors supplies me with more information about the modus operandi of factions – for example, I know that scientific arm of yakuza will be investing in facilities and if they cannot do so, they’ll be engaging their investigative wing in plundering operations – stealing tech and research, industrial sabotage, and all kinds of infiltration fun.


Step 6: Determine Faction Assets

Each Faction gets free Assets (Facilities, Fleets, and Crews) equal to their Rating. They all start at Rank 1 and can be improved or sold for Build Points. By default, they should own 2 Assets in Primary focus for every 1 Asset in Secondary focus, but it’s not a hard rule. The behavior sometimes informs whether the Faction invests more in Facilities (‘sedentary’) or Fleets (‘nomadic’). Obviously, this is somewhat complicated by the fact that I’m converting a spaceship-heavy sci-fi game into cyberpunk without spaceships, but let’s assume that Fleets are all means of transportation and easy-to-move groups.

The numbers in parentheses is me spending extra Build Points to raise the ratings.

No.NameRatingPrimary Focus, Behavior, & AssetsSecondary Focus, Behavior, & AssetsTertiary Focus Behavior
1Aztechnology4Social / aggressive
Crew R1 (+1): a group of agents and traders
Scientific / nomadic
Fleet R3: a flying lab for magical research
/ protective
2Henequen5Investigative / isolationist
Crew R2: Purveyors of art pieces and 
Warfare / sedentary
Garrison R2: a well-guarded dragon cave
Crew R1 (+2): personal security
/ vindictive
3Cutters5Warfare / excessive
Crew R2: gang’s military wing
Fleet R1: a small brigade of armored vehicles
Facility R1 (+2): Fortified base
Social / placating
Facility R1: Apartment complex, Best Western
/ expansive
4Hellhounds3Scientific / exploitative
Crew R2: bunch of blood mages
Technical / protective
Fleet R1: all of their biking support
/ plundering
5Doc Harmon’s crew5Scientific / placating
Facility R2: a street doc clinic
Crew R1: clinic’s HTR team
Creative / expedient
Facility R1: a small recreational drug factory
Crew R1: a fundraising group
/ abrasive
6Crowley5Investigative / defensive
Facility R3: magical lodge
Crew R1: a group of wanna-be students
Warfare / vindictive
Crew R1 (+1): a group of elementals
/ dynamic
7Phase4Investigative / lenient
Crew R3: Phase’s network of runners
Technical / vindictive
Crew R1: bunch of combat bikers
/ mercantile
8Ancients2Creative / protective
Crew R1: a glam rock group
Social / expansive
Facility R1 (+1): a nightclub
/ expedient
9ALOHA2Warfare / abrasive
Facility R1 (+1): fortified base
Crew R1: a group of freedom fighters
Scientific / expedient/ exploitative
10Yakuza5Scientific / sedentary
Facility R3 (+1): magic research facility
Facility R2: tech research facility
Investigative / plundering
/ nomadic

Spent Build Points: 9/9

I’ve sold off some of the Assets and bought some upgrades. In general, as I already have 10 Factions in the game, I wanted them more contained than scattered.


Step 7: Determine Faction Relationships

As the world does not revolve around Tomorrow, the Factions have connections between themselves, not just with her. For each Faction, I’m rolling a task using Faction Rating as a dice pool; marks are the number of connections to other factions; I’ll also roll a d10 to pick which Factions, unless I know that some connections must be in pance (like Phase’s connections to Ancients – she’s married to an ex-lieutenant of the gang).

I will also roll on the Familiarity:

  • 1 – hostility
  • 2 – resentment
  • 3 – antipathy
  • 4-7 – neutral
  • 8 – sympathy
  • 9 – friendship
  • 10 – kinship

Familiarity always goes both ways. Obviously, due to the nature of this process, not every Faction will end up with the exact number of connections they need, but I’ll try to keep it as close as possible.

No.AztecHenCuttHellDocCrowPhasAncAlohaYak
3Aztec339
1Hen3
5Cutt93516
3Hell9974
3Doc339
3Crow578
4Phas14810
1Anc610
0Aloha
1Yak9

Just look at this – the story writes itself. 

  • Why does the lone ex-shadowrunner have a massive gripe with a whole international gang cartel? How is Tomorrow going to navigate between the gang she’s closely tied to and her chosen semi-mentor and informer?
  • Why is Aztechnology so chummy and friendly with the Yakuza and Mitsuhama? Both corps are pioneers in magical research and they usually compete – what brought them together and how does it connect to Chloe?
  • Why is the Doc’s clinic on unfriendly terms with the Cutters who house the clinic on their turf? Why is Aztechnology even aware of the clinic’s existence?

So many questions, so many plot hooks, so much inspiration.


Step 8: Determine ongoing Projects

In this step, I need to establish what is the Faction’s objective at the beginning of the game. As all Factions have existed in-universe prior to the Campaign, they are generally in the middle of something. They get to run Projects and use Assets according to their Focuses and behaviors. As I can’t be arsed to go into all the mechanics of that (all bless Project Aphelion for a zoom-in/zoom-out approach to the game complexity), I’ll just set up the narrative directions for each Faction at the beginning of the campaign.

  1. Aztechnology (Social/aggressive -> Scientific/nomadic -> protective)
    As an aggressive Social faction, Aztech is going to try to get Passive Resource Generation Asset, so a Facility to establish themselves in the area. Their Crew of agents will be looking for a good starting point in Denver, outside of Aztlan district – maybe they’ve heard about the Anomaly and metaplanar gate that exists on Cutters’ turf and want to get in a prime position to investigate.
  2. Henequen (Investigative/isolationist -> Warfare/sedentary -> vindictive)
    The dragon uses his crew of art purveyors to learn about the whereabouts of several artifacts and masterpieces, while avoiding anybody else. With his spare assets, he’s upgrading his garrison, in preparation for Aztech’s attack that will happen – sooner or later.
  3. The Cutters (Warfare/excessive -> Social/placating -> expansive)
    The gang, as usual, goes all-in on establishing their dominance in the area against other gangs.
  4. The Hellhounds (Scientific/exploitative -> Technical/protective -> plundering)
    The wiz gang is continuing the magical research using other people’s resources, including Crowley’s and Tomorrow’s. Their biker retinue makes sure nobody messes up with their turf.
  5. Doc Harmon’s clinic (Scientific/placating -> Creative/expedient -> abrasive)
    A placating faction, the clinic is currently focusing on fixing the relationship with Factions of the lowest Familiarity. That would mean the Cutters, clinic’s hosts and landlords. A heavy discount on gun wounds is certainly provided. Meanwhile, the creative side of the hustle is raising money for the clinic’s operation.
  6. Crowley (Investigative/defensive -> Warfare/vindictive -> dynamic)
    The free spirit is currently busy reinforcing the protections around his penthouse and the metaplanar gate hidden within it. The rumors about the Anomaly leading to a chaotic metaplane are slowly beginning to circulate, and Crowley prefers to be prepared for it. His mini army of fire elementals is standing by, ready to strike.
  7. Phase (Investigative/lenient -> Technical/vindictive -> mercantile)
    The ex-shadowrunners trains her combat biking team while doing a good-natured, relaxed research into a multitude of topics. As it’s the winter of 2055, she’s focusing on the bug spirits, especially the ‘how to fight them’, not ‘where they came from’.
  8. Ancients (Creative/protective -> Social/expansive -> expedient)
    As always supporting their allies, Ancients are currently expanding their new nightclub with live music, The Stampede. It’s another part of their growing spy network, so they’re keeping the nightclub open to everybody who can show some class, regardless of metatype. While not officially affiliated with the club, the protection of Ancients over the crew and the band is a secret to none but the most obtuse.
  9. ALOHA (Warfare/abrasive -> Scientific/expedient -> exploitative)
    The group is generally fighting against all corporations that moved in after Hawaii seceded from UCAS and everybody who’s not Hawaiian. Which is a lot of people in Hawaii. They commit all their Assets to the fight, rarely paying attention to anything outside of their country.
  10. Yakuza (Scientific/sedentary -> Investigative/plundering -> nomadic)
    Yakuza/Mitsuhama is focusing on their research in the two facilities they’ve recently built: one in Denver, one in Hawaii. On the grapevine, there’s enough stories of MCT scientists being on the brink of a massive discovery – whether all of that data is discovered through research or espionage, remains to be seen.

Step 9: Determine the starting point

We’re done! Well, almost. The world is there, living, breathing, full of factions, conflicts of interests, ready to be interacted with. All that’s left is to connect Tomorrow to all of it.

As I’ve mentioned, Tomorrow is also a Faction – a Scientific Faction Rating 1, with a Secondary Focus in Investigation (duh). Her Faction has 1 free Asset: a Crew, which is currently a lonesome one magician, Rating 1. Faction behaviors are irrelevant, as that’s up to the player. 

Normally, this is where I’d start the game, but as I’m continuing a campaign, I need to add some notes on Familiarity between Tomorrow and other Factions in the area:

  1. Aztechnology – 3
  2. Henequen – 5
  3. The Cutters – 6
  4. The Hellhounds – 7
  5. Doc Harmon clinic – 8
  6. Crowley – 8
  7. Phase – 6
  8. Ancients – 5
  9. ALOHA – no contact
  10. Yakuza – no contact

And now we’re done!


The date: December 1, 2055.

The place: Denver.

The campaign: Ready to roll.

Next stop: Generating the first Scenario!


Disclaimer

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5 Comments on “Project Aphelion Solo Play: Campaign Generation (Part 3)

    • There’s a novel by Nigel Findley “House of the Sun” and there’s a 2ed adventure called “Paradise Lost”. My GM told me that he had planned to put the missing sister somewhere in the plot of Paradise Lost, so I’m running with data from there, and home brewing the actual plot of the search.

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